Grassmarket traders want new vote on BID ‘tax’

Grassmarket BID project manager Georgia Artus says the plan works. Picture: Lesley Martin
Grassmarket BID project manager Georgia Artus says the plan works. Picture: Lesley Martin
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ANGRY traders in the Grassmarket are calling for a fresh vote on the controversial Business Improvement District set up more than a year ago which they claim has brought them no benefit.

Opponents of the Greater Grassmarket BID say many of them did not even know about the original ballot on whether to establish the body, which now has the power to levy all businesses in the area to help fund events and promotions.

Charles Gibbons, owner of the Bow Bar, said 80 traders had signed a petition to the Scottish Government calling for a re-ballot. “That’s more than voted for the BID in the first place,” he said. “The BID hasn’t done anything the council didn’t do before – promoting the area, cleaning it up. The levy is just another tax.”

He said he never received a ballot paper in the original vote and had not been aware of the proposal. “The first we knew was when this demand for £1000 arrived.”

Keith Clarkson, of Clarksons jewellery makers in West Bow, said: “It’s about basic democracy – 70 per cent of businesses in the catchment area either did not vote or did not vote in favour of this.”

He said the BID was planning to raise £600,000 from local businesses over five years. “We’re well over a year into it, so that implies £120,000 has already been gathered – where is it? I have not seen any benefit. Even people who voted for it are saying it was a mistake. A lot of businesses in this area are teetering on the edge. Another £1000 or whatever on their business rates could be the difference between them saying this is worthwhile or not.”

Robert Thornton, owner of vintage homeware shop Iconic Design in the Grassmarket, said many traders were also unhappy about plans for weekly markets. He said: “They will be allowed to sell the kind of stuff that I’m selling, so that will take business away from me – but I’m expected to pay for this.”

Despite the protests, Georgia Artus, who manages the Greater Grassmarket BID, said she believed it enjoyed majority support among local businesses.

And she claimed traders were benefiting. “For some people it will be a slow process but I believe support is growing all the time.”

She said the weekly markets were intended to stop all the activities in the Grassmarket being concentrated in the summer, adding that there were guidelines to limit the types of stalls and reduced fees if local traders wanted to take a stall.